A former high-ranking Pittsburg police officer is accusing the department of altering reports and doctoring crime statistics to make the city appear safer, according to a court claim.
First reported by the East Bay Times, the department's practice of classifying a high percentage of reported crimes as "suspicious circumstances," which keeps them from being counted in FBI crime stats, is systematic and deliberate, according to a wrongful termination claim filed by former Lt. Wade Derby. The scheme was discussed among command staff and taught to rookie officers fresh out of the academy, the claim says.
"It is a cover-up when you take real crimes and deliberately call them something else to make you look good," said attorney Daniel Horowitz, who is representing Derby.
The Times report, citing its own review of the department's data, said there was even a stabbing case that became a homicide when the victim died that initially was reported as a special circumstance.
The city of about 67,000 in Contra Costa County once was one of the East Bay's most crime-plagued areas. The Pittsburg Police Department website now boasts that it is one of the region's safest.
Pittsburg reported 175 violent crimes in 2014, down from 643 in 1985, despite a population growth of nearly 30,000 in that span, the newspaper reported.
Former Mayor Joe Canciamilla believes the waterfront city is safer than it was a decade ago but also said the police department needs to be up front about the real crime numbers.
"I think the department needs to get out in front and explain that to the community," he said. "How did they put the reports together, and why did they use the categories they used. That would go a long way toward trust and confidence in the reports and the department."
Editor's note: A day after NBC Bay Area's story aired the Pittsburg Police Officers Association released a statement. View it here.